It's a family affair

Some of them were teammates.

Some of them know each other and have become close because they share the same football lineage, playing for the Steelers even though they might have worn the black and gold decades apart.
They share a bond. They share a kindred spirit.

They are brothers. They are family.

And when they gathered for the annual Steelers Alumni Weekend Dinner, they were a legendary group that enjoyed every minute of being together.

The dinner, presented by U.S. Steel, UPMC and UPMC Health Plan, kicked off a weekend of honoring the Steelers Hall of Fame Class of 2020 and 2021 members, which includes Bill Cowher, Troy Polamalu, Donnie Shell, Alan Faneca and Bill Nunn.

"It's really nice to be back home here in Pittsburgh," said Polamalu. "And what more beautiful day than a nice 60 degree, rainy day. It's so perfect. It's a blessing to be back and we're so happy to be here.

"Being able to see the team this weekend, see them play, and especially to see Coach (Mike) Tomlin and my former college coach, (Seahawks) Coach (Pete) Carroll, what a blessing it is that I am able to experience both of them on the same weekend that we're coming back. It's awesome to see former teammates, former coaches, and most especially all of the Pittsburghers here, at the game or not at the game.

"It's just nice to be home."

The Pittsburgh Steelers celebrated their Hall of Famers at Heinz Field during the Alumni Weekend Dinner benefitting the UPMC Sports Medicine Concussion Program

It's an opportunity for them to gather as a group and share stories with each other, and then share stories with guests in attendance in the FedEx Great Hall at Heinz Field in a panel discussion moderated by Merril Hoge, where there were plenty of laughs and a night full of memories.

"You have to cherish these moments because we're not in the same locker room trading stories, laughing every day anymore," said Faneca. "When we do get back together, and we have these moments, you have to embrace them and cherish them and make the most out of them. You drain every last second out of them, spending time with each other and just enjoying it."

Faneca and Polamalu were able to attend the dinner, while Cowher and Shell will join the group on Sunday night for the Steelers-Seahawks game, where they will receive their Hall of Fame Ring of Excellence at halftime. The Nunn family will also be honored then.

"I am looking forward to that," said Faneca. "It was great when I got in the Hall of Honor, to go out on the field for that gave me the tingles and I got pumped up for it. I can't imagine what this is going to be like. To share the moment with a full stadium of fans that were cheering you on while you were playing is going to be special and something I will always remember.

"And then to get the ring. I don't know what that moment is going to be like. I've seen a lot of the social media posts the Hall of Fame does about the ring, and I try to flick through fast. Kind of like the Super Bowl ring. I didn't really want to see what the design was until it was right there in my hands. I actually tried on a Hall of Fame ring to get my size right while kind of not looking at it."

While the 2020 and 2021 Hall of Famers are the group that is being honored, they aren't the only ones on hand for the weekend. Other Hall of Famers such as Joe Greene, Franco Harris, Dermontti Dawson and Rod Woodson joined the fun, as well as other players who played for Cowher and with Polamalu and Faneca, including James Harrison, who was among those in Canton celebrating the group over the summer.

"It was amazing being there for that," said Harrison. "That speaks not just to individuals, but the organization and how they grow and see the guys they want to bring in that fit the Steelers way.

"There is such a bond. It all started with the guys who originally became the Steel Curtain. The bond that they had and the legacy of building a bond and a family, more than just a team. It's just something that continued over the years. Seeing the guys that would come back to the facility, Mean Joe (Greene) being there all the time and getting the opportunity to have conversations with those guys and see what made them so close, and realizing that the things that we had going on with us, things that made us close, and helped us bond as a unit of not just a team, but brothers building that true family relationship.

"You don't get to spend a lot of time together now. Guys are spread all over the place. A lot of the time these events are the only opportunity you get to see a lot of guys, especially with everything individuals have going on in their lives. To be able to come together for these opportunities is amazing."

Greene wasn't able to make it to Canton for the Hall of Fame enshrinement this year, a rare time he had to miss it, but is thrilled he will be at Heinz Field on Sunday to see Shell, his former teammate, as well as the rest of the group receive their rings.

"It's really, really special," said Greene. "Seeing all the guys again, it brings back fond memories. For some reason, just seeing Donnie and all the guys, it seems to be more enjoyable than it was when we were playing because we always had that next game. So, reminiscing and seeing them now, that is special. To see Donnie get his ring, that is going to be a special time for me."

While he wasn't in Canton, Greene watched all of the Hall of Fame festivities and said Polamalu's speech was the best Hall of Fame speech he has ever heard, some high praise from the legend.

"Troy captured what being a Pittsburgh Steeler is about and shared it with the football world," said Greene. "I thought it was so special.

"When I think about the Steelers it always goes back to developing into something special. We have to thank the Steelers organization overall and Chuck Noll for that. They created an existence that was something special. It carried on for all these years. For me, Troy exemplified all of what was happening in the 70s and all the years that preceded him. He kept it going. He added to the legacy. Something that is still going. Others like James Harrison, Coach Cowher, they exemplified what wearing the black and gold meant, that it's a way of life.

"That's what makes the Steelers special."

What makes the Steelers special, is that the feeling is always mutual, the respect is mutual.

"I will say this, when I was playing, to see Joe Greene every day in the office, to see Mel Blount all the time, it was always so humbling," said Polamalu. "As Coach Tomlin always says, that's the standard. The standard of greatness. The standard of how you have to be great. There's a lot of great athletes out there, but there's a unique greatness of all the Steelers and all Pittsburgh athletes. Outside of football even.

"To me I think that's what's so nice about being able to come back is it's really a big family. And to be able to be part of that part of the tradition of me coming back, that's really humbling."

Take a look at Steelers alumni and Hall of Famers in studio during Alumni Weekend

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